Monday, May 14, 2007

to dis or not to dis, dis is da question

Recently someone asked me if I had any interest in writing reviews of restaurants. I said I was on the fence about it because having worked in restaurants for so many years I felt that I'd have a hard time taking putting the public interest above that of the people who actually worked in restaurants. I've never been on the bad end of a review but I know I lost many nights of sleep worrying that I would. So I'm not sure I like the idea of being in the position of ruining some hard working chef's reputation with a withering public critique of his taste and technique.

I've also had some very limited experience of writing reviews and the blowback really gave me pause to think that I may not be entirely comfortable with the genre.

Lately my memory seems to be suffering the effects of age and having more things to take care of than it was originally coded to accommodate, so I may be a little fuzzy on the details. But I wrote a review of Restaurant Daniel in the CIA school paper in, I believe, 1994. The review was pretty positive overall. I praised the quality of the cooking but wrote that the service was arrogant, dismissive of diners who were not repeat customers and celebrities, and that the menu's claim to feature "seasonal" ingredients was misleading at best. (I couldn't understand by what definition of the word "season" "raspberries, strawberries, tomatoes, mache and other summer produce become seasonal in December.) I expected to catch some flak from a few of my colleagues or perhaps the school administration (neither ever happened) but was totally unprepared to learn that one of my students, who was an extern at Daniel, showed the review to Daniel Boulud, and now the chef wanted by ass on his flat top.

But honestly, I don't know what to think. I mean, a very good case could be made for the assertion that the overall effect of restaurant critics has been very good for the business and for the people who work in them. And having a few famous enemies can be good for a career -it sure hasn't hurt Frank Bruni. This guy has more enemies than George W Bush. (No, that can't be. How about more enemies than Al Sharpton?) Anyway, there are a lot of people who don't like and even hate, Frank Bruni but he sure tracks a lot of attention in the cyberspace and elsewhere. Check out this article from the New York Observer that addresses the age old question of whether of not a food critic can close a restaurant but which ends up talking mostly about Frank Bruni. Amazing. You go Frankie !

Feel the Bruni Effect, New York! | The New York Observer


Art said...

The real problem with Frank Bruni is the sycophantic coverage he gave GEORGE BUSH during the 2000 campaign, which with the abetting of the Gray Lady's other correspodents denigration of Gore, led to the fix we are in today. How anyone could believe ANYTHING that Bruni writes about anything is a complete mystery.

Sorcha said...

In our little blog, we do recs, but not reviews. Mind, we only have maybe five readers anyway, but I kind of feel like since we're not qualified food critics, it's better that way. So we tell people about the places we like, with the caveat that we know what we like but not what art is. *G*

Robert M. del Grosso said...

I'm certainly no fan of Bush and have have admired Al Gore since I became aware of his record as an environmentalist while doing an environmental science degree in the late 70's. Of course I voted for Gore in the primaries when he was running against Dukakis and was pissed off when Clinton got the nomination in '92. So I've got no political ax to grind on on anything you've written.
Now I'm not familiar with Bruni's coverage of Bush, but if what you write is true (and I'm not implying it isn't) I'm not sure that it disqualifies him from my trust in his all of criticism of restaurants.
But what the f--k. I don't take any restaurant criticism very seriously -except perhaps Michelin. A lot of restaurateurs know who these guys are and give them special service.
Usually, I go with my gut and what I know of the chef's track record. I suppose I'm pretty immune to the buzz and BS in the press.

Please send me a link to your blog. I lost it a pile of email from Ruhlman's site and can't remember the name -so googling won't work.

Sorcha said...

Seriously? Cool. You can get it by clicking on my name here, but I'll email it to you. We're kinda slow at the moment, because we've got a bunch of recs piled up to write.

IdahoRocks said...

Hey Bob,

I'm happy you said what you did about Restaurant Daniel. This happens to me frequently, in the way that Ruth Reichl describes so well in "Garlic and Sapphires." I worked for 20 yrs. as a waitress, not in the greatest places, but I did work at Chadney's in the "Valley" in Calif. at the end of its heyday and I loved it. I liked waiting, it put me through university, and I know how to behave in a restaurant. That's why I hate it when I visit a "reknown" restaurant and am treated to lousy service. I also hate it when I have medicore food that I could have made better myself. Finally, since I'm on this soapbox, more than anything, I abhor "pretty" food that tastes common. So you've got my vote when it comes to an honest appraisal.